Travel in Germany and Coronavirus – is it safe?
Last week, I left my home town for the first time since the end of January. Do Travel in Germany and Coronavirus go together? I ventured to Southern Germany on a long-planned business trip to find out.
After a wonderful short holiday in Jordan in January, February was busy with work. I also got bogged down by a flu bug that dragged well into March and the European Corona lockdown. Just recovered, I was faced with the great unknown at work, and buckled down to get on with it. I run a COVID-related clinic. So I didn’t do much more than work many hours, try to catch up with epidemiological developments. And I shielded myself from everyone else but members of my household – where cats outnumber humans.
Travel in Germany and Coronavirus: Restrictions are gradually lifted
Now, restrictions have been eased in Germany to the point where touristic visits have been possible again from the end of May. This also marked Pentecostal weekend and a traditional holiday time for many Europeans. The internal EU borders will reopen on 15th June or earlier. Turkey may open its borders to foreign visitors sometimes this month as well.
But, would you like to travel under the circumstances? What is it like? How are restrictions currently in Germany?
I travelled last week – and I did love it. To be honest, I would not have chosen to travel right away. But I had booked a course over six months ago. With about ten days notice, they decided to run the course, which meant a trip across Germany and a week away from home. This is my experience.
I have to say I have stable health for my age, and I do not see myself as risk group. Yes, I am overweight, my blood pressure needs monitoring. But I feel healthy and I have a fairly high health-related anxiety treshold. I thought, I managed to stay COVID-free despite relatively close contact to the virus, I know about hygiene, I use all recommended protection and abide by every law an rule here in Germany.
There is a higher risk when comparing this to home office and only going out for essentials. But… after self-isolating right from my first flu symptoms well into March and being super super careful, I felt we now have a somewhat better understanding of how the virus spreads and how we can protect ourselves… so… bring on the trip to Southern Germany.
Preparation for my trip
Since I drove, I could pack as much as I wanted! So I packed a special basket to help minimise infection risk containing the following
- a decent supply of fabric face masks, as well as a few backup disposable masks
- an FFP2 mask – just in case
- A bottle of Cologne to sanitize my hands if necessary
- disposable gloves
- plenty of water
- my cafetiere, a travel cup, a plate and knife. I don’t normally travel with a cafetiere, but I wanted to be able to make a cup of coffee or tea in my room without having to venture out
Travelling to Southern Germany
I’d early on decided to drive for two reasons. Firstly, the return traffic from the long weekend could be horrendous. Train tickets were expensive. Trains would be stuffed. Secondly, my course started at 9am. I would need to take an 11-hour train and bus ride to get there, essentially meaning a very uncomfortable night on a train or full and expensive train the night before plus an extra night in a hotel. From what I saw, I would stay in a rural area with little public transport.
So I drove – setting off at 2:30 for one long drive on the motorway. You wouldn’t believe we’re in the middle of a pandemic when you saw the road traffic – it got bright at 4am, and 05:30 am was the start of the morning rush hour.
Around seven hours later, I finally turned off the motorway and into a beautiful and little-known wine country.
Accommodation and Safety Regulations in hotels
Accidents and traffic jams don’t stop because of Coronavirus, so after a really exhausting drive I arrived at my conference centre. Face mask wearing was mandatory in all public areas of the building. Once in my seminar room, we decided to sit together mask-free for the next ten hours with the prerequisite 1,5m distance. Well – I guess sitting in a room with a bunch of twenty other clinicians from all over Germany somewhat posed a risk. But… most of us are exposed to that risk every day.
Hotel One: a medium sized countryside conference centre
Our conference centre wasn’t a beauty but there were plenty of mask-free outside spaces.
I had reserved a room. Who wouldn’t want to fall out of bed and right into their seminar? However, the youth hostel charm of the room, lack of internet and anything resembling a fridge of kettle, combined with a rather ambitious price made me fly the coop after two nights.
Hotel Two: Small private village guesthouse
The area has a lot of tech businesses and is well prepared for business travellers – and I quickly found this room at less than half the price of the hostel cell. What you don’t see is the huge sit-in kitchen and beautiful village surroundings. My landlady told me they see more business travellers than holidaymakers, They had been open throughout the Corona Lockdown, but visitor numbers had significantly dropped.
I cannot recommend this guesthouse highly enough. Beautiful location in a village, lovely owners, super clean and comfy rooms. The only restriction is that you will definitely need your own transport to get around and explore the countryside.
What is open and what isn’t?
My course was in a very picturesque but not overly exciting region of Germany, in the district of Heilbronn in Southern Germany. They produce excellent wine, and traditional rich regional food. I wouldn’t say this region is very touristy or hyped. It is pretty much under the radar at the best of times.
Most accommodation is for business travellers or trainees in one of the many high-tech businesses in the region. It’s not without its charme! If you ask around someone will recommend a great restaurant in every village. I visited two very low-key wineries where a bottle of decent wine costs very little, and you can buy them by the case. There were very few visitors, and in some place people seemed relieved to be able to open again and were almost falling over themselves to welcome those few visitors.
Visiting a quality but little known wine region
Armed with plenty of wine buying advice from the landlady, I set off to the next village to look for quality wine with a reasonable price tag. Most wineries were open but operate restricted hours anyway – none of these see tons of tourists. I was surprised that after those nearly hermetically sealed breakfasts at my first accommodation, I could taste the wine before buying. I visited the Weingut Alexander Heinrich. They are multilingual and have a nice tasting room and some award-winning wines. Most wines are in the 10-20 Euro range. The winemakers utilise natural fermentation, although none of the wines are organic.
The second place I visited, just a stone’s throw from my guest house, was the local cooperative of vintners. A much larger operation and wholesalers, they normally do have a small cafe and tasting rooms attached, none of which were operational. But thanks to the brilliant guy behind the counter, I got to narrow down my choice of a “good citrus-fruity dry white” to a few, which he generously poured and let me try before buying.
Other than that, I met with a friend from university in a beer garden. Even here, outside, we would need to register before sitting down for our beer and pizza. Whereas in some other places, like ice cream parlours with cafe tables, registration wasn’t necessary but you had to wear a face mask indoors. Most of the time that mask is glued to my face anyway, so it didn’t particularly trouble me.
Last not least: touristy stop in Bavaria
Somewhat buoyed by how well everything was going, including my course and exam, which finished early on Saturday night, I decided to take the opportunity and visit the restored Baroque Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth on the way back.
Bayreuth was a great place to break the long journey, right next to the motorway, and a pleasant smallish town with a UNESCO World Heritage site and the somewhat controversial heritage of Richard Wagner, famous composer and dubious personality. Also, the Franconian Bavarian Cuisine has an excellent reputation.
Incredibly enough, the modest Baroque streets of Bayreuth were dead on a Sunday morning. Just a handful of punters wanted to see the Opera House. I have no idea whether Bayreuth is normally considered very touristy outside the Wagner Festival (which is cancelled for this year). I think nearby Bamberg, another UNESCO World Heritage site, is much busier.
The Margravial Opera House of Bayreuth
Access to the Margravial Opera House is limited to about fifteen people per tour. And if you are into taking pictures of empty spaces, now might be your time. They may have looked very careful that we took the designated entries and exits to the building, but didn’t stop us lingering around to take some pictures after the tour.
The Bayreuth Margravial Opera House is one of the oldest surviving Baroque Opera Houses in the world. Many theatres pre-1800s were built as temporary structures, and it is only due to the Margravine’s love of the arts that she intended this to be around and be played during her life time. It was mostly mothballed after her death, which contributed to its excellent preservation of the wooden interior.
I’ll leave you with a few impressions of the ornate theatre – I might write about this in a separate article. But if you love old theatres and are travelling to Germany, definitely try to see this one. You can also take tours of the Festspielhaus 0f Richard Wagner fame, slightly outside town. There you’ll find a theatre in contrasting style, functional with restrained aesthetics but excellent acoustics. Neither theatre has a fixed performance schedule – a bit of a shame for such beautiful and significant buildings.
The stage is original and painted to give the illusion of depth. Only one of these original stageworks is still in action. They cannot be moved but could theoretically be dismantled.
The entire interior id made out of painted wood, typical of Baroque theatres.
A stroll through little-visited Bayreuth
Too early for lunch, I decided to pay a visit to the Richard-Wagner-Museum too. It reopened after extension and renovation five years ago. All talk of his proto-fascist traits aside, I do love the music. The museum was an eye opener! Wagners convoluted family tree drags through the NS Regime with a bunch of Nazi sympathisers. Later came the mud fighting who was to take over the eponymous festival glorifying their ancestors operas. I love Wagner Opera. However- after an hours immersion into the exhibits in the residence of Richard Wagner and that of his son, Siegfried Wagner, I think I will skip trying to get tickets for the festival.
Richard Wagners residence, bought for him by his similarly controversial contemporary, Kind Ludwig II of Bavaria, looks rather bare and unexciting. It’s somewhat lacklustre without the blasting of Wagner musical pieces. The adjacent house of his son, Siegfried Wagner, is almost empty except for some video installations about the Wagner Family and the Third Reich.
Honestly, I felt physically sick after ten minutes and left. Which left me with the annexe to the house. It houses a small collection of stage models and original costumes. I had the museum all to myself, carefully watched by a large contingent of security guards – to ensure only a limited number of people enter a room and never stay away from the marked path.
I’ve been lucky that most Wagner operas I’ve seen were rather bare-bone productions, while excellent in musical quality. I’ve never seen a winged helmet in them ever. My favourite was the semi-staged version of the Ring Cycle by Opera North. It narrowly beat my one and only visit to the Teatro alla Scala di Milano for the “Rhinegold”.
Last not least: Traditional Bavarian lunch – for a vegetarian
When I mentioned earlier Bayreuth was extremely quiet on a Sunday morning in just opening Corona Lockdown, the restaurant I chose for lunch was the exact opposite. With distance rules in place, they operate a reservation system. At noon a queue had already formed, and a bit of nice eye-clapping got me a small table in one of the numerous dining rooms of Oskar.
You can indeed find Vegetarian food even at a staunchly Bavarian restaurant! This is essentially German Macaroni Cheese (“Kaesspaetzle”). Another default Bavarian veggie option is creamed mushrooms with dumplings. If you are vegan… stick to salad or check the menu in advance when considering a traditional (Southern) German restaurant.
Is travelling in Germany safe right now?
Honestly, I would say it definitely is. Given we Germans love our rules and regulations, and mostly stick to them, all these precautions have been well thought through and implied systemically. You may perhaps enter Germany from several neighbouring countries right now as border controls aren’t strictly enforced. However, borders do not officially reopen to tourism until 15th June and the German and federal governments reserve the right to limit entry should infections rise. At present, borders will open within the EU, Schengen countries, and Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the EU.
Should anything happen, there is currently good access to medical clinics, where English is widely spoken, with some of the best access to testing in Europe. Testing capacity is nearly a million tests a week now. We have excellent hospitals and a functional health care system that even bore the brunt of nearly 200000 COVID-19 cases. So if anything were to happen, Germany would be one of the better places for it to happen.
Current restrictions for entry into Germany
If you travel from a country with a higher rate of infections, you will need to go into a 14-day quarantine in some federal states.
Accommodation is plenty, and there are fewer visitors than you would usually expect in late spring, which is prime Germany travel season. Face masks are mandatory, but most museums, restaurants and hotels are open again! Looking at recent trends, many Germans will spend their summer holiday in their own country. Bavaria and the Baltic Coast are big favourites and will completely fill up. By choosing less visited regions, you will find a better deal and fewer crowds.
However… if you look at many popular German travel blogs, holidays within Germany are all the rage now. You can find countless postings about popular and lesser known German holiday spots, holiday homes and camper vans. I expect a massive run at anywhere near the Baltic, and scenic country roads clogged up by vans and camper mobiles… as I rarely take holidays in the summer, I wait how the situation develops. I plan to travel to Japan in autumn. This may not happen, as there is talk about countries in the Far East opening their borders to tourists from October onwards. I think there will be enough Last-Minute deals for Southern Europe around to make a good Plan B, though. Tourist season is over in Bulgaria and parts of Greece in October, so this is where we might be headed.
The Small Print: This trip is not sponsored. It contains an affiliate link to Booking.com to the guesthouse I have stayed in. This means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through the link.